Kitchen Layouts

A kitchen can be anything from a cabin’s hot plate and ice chest designed for the preparation of hot dogs to the cavernous kitchens of the White House, which must serve up banquets to the heads of nations. A house’s or apartment’s kitchen can be as small as a walk-in closet or as spacious as a handball court. The key to good kitchen design is efficiency, not size. Most people are under the impression that the larger the kitchen, the better. This is a fallacy. A poorly laid out large kitchen can be as frustrating to work in as a tiny kitchen. It can be very tiring preparing even a simple meal in a kitchen in which the refrigerator is twelve or more feet away from the range. The cook has to negotiate numerous round trips between appliances with hands full of milk, onions, and garlic cloves .

Variations on the kitchen theme fall along a spectrum with the closed kitchen at one end and the completely open family-dining-living-room kitchen at the other ( Ill. 1). Those who choose the most open prototype generally spend a great deal of time cooking and baking, have a very informal attitude toward entertaining family and other guests, and likely do not employ help for cooking and serving. Those who select the closed utilitarian design prefer to separate themselves from kitchen noises, odors, and clutter while dining. In between are the eat-in kitchens and kitchens with attached dinettes that are adjacent to formal dining rooms ( Ill. 2).

The original living room of this New York City apartment had to be divided into sitting, dining, and kitchen areas. The mirrored 4 1/2-foot-high partition serves both to conceal kitchen clutter and to reflect the formal mantelpiece on the opposite wall.


Good kitchen design begins with an honest appraisal of the demands that will be made on the kitchen and on the cook. The following questions should be answered before proceeding:

1. Will the meals be elaborate or simple? Elaborate meals seem to require a lot of time and a great deal of room. Good planners who lack both time and space have learned to stage the work required for a large party so that baking is done on Monday (and frozen), casseroles on Tuesday, etc. If the meal must be cooked all at once, it is likely that a number of tasks must be done simultaneously, requiring a lot of counter space. If elaborate meals are prepared only a few times a year, the cook can “borrow” the dining-room table as preparation space or can set up a bridge table in the living room. If such meals are prepared on a routine basis, the kitchen should be designed to handle the load, On the other hand, it is foolish to design a restaurant kitchen if you usually broil a piece of fish and steam some vegetables for dinner. Such “show” kitchens are expensive and don’t necessarily add to the resale value of the house or apartment.

2. How many people are to be regularly served? If you have eight or ten children, you may not require a super-large kitchen to prepare your family’s meals. However, you will probably need larger than usual pots and pans, the storage space to accommodate them, and a very large refrigerator and pantry. Cooking for twelve is more time-consuming than cooking for four but does not necessarily require more space if the cook is well organized.

3. How many people will be working in the kitchen at once? We find this to be a critical question. Some kitchens seem to be designed for one cook only. When the dishwasher door is open no one else can work in the kitchen. If cooking is a shared activity, you must plan a kitchen that will accommodate a few cooks at once. Such a kitchen should have a slightly wider space between counters and more than one way in and out.

4. Which appliances do you really need? Again, a very critical question. On the one hand, you don’t want to overload the kitchen with expensive, space-consuming appliances you will hardly ever use. On the other hand, you want your kitchen to be flexible.

5. Will you be doing heavy-duty baking on a regular basis? Many home bakers tend to do a week’s or a month’s worth of baking in a single afternoon. Such a baker has special needs: a large stone pastry board for rolling dough, heavy dough-kneading machinery, multiple ovens for simultaneous baking.

6. What types of cuisine will be cooked in the kitchen? Ethnic cooks may need a whole different set of appliances and equipment. Some cuisines re quire a great deal of vegetable washing and chopping, which demands multiple sinks and a lot of counter space. .French food seems to require pre cooking in a lot of little pots and pans. These special needs must be considered before planning the kitchen.

In this carriage-house conversion, the kitchen becomes an abstract form within a cylinder played against the overall living and dining room space.


The very simplest kitchen arrangement consists of a range, a sink, and a refrigerator. Most cooking consultants suggest a triangular positioning for the appliances. This can be accomplished by laying out the kitchen in two parallel bars, in an L shape, or in a U shape. All three of these arrangements will afford counter space around the appliances and should provide enough room for overhead storage cabinets. These layouts work even for the slightly larger kitchen, which may include a dishwasher and double wall ovens ( Ill. 3).

In most renovations, of course, the physical configurations of the existing space rather than the requirements of the cook will dictate the size and the shape of the kitchen.

A parallel-bar layout, once called the Holly wood kitchen, works in a space that is long and narrow. The space must be at least 7’ wide (2’ for each set of lower cabinets and 3’ for the aisle between them)* but can be any length. The rationale of this configuration is that the cook can pivot between counters, thus reducing the number of steps required to prepare a meal. This lay out loses its efficiency if it is more than 9’ wide. An added advantage is that it can be designed with an exit at each end, which makes it useful for two or more cooks.

[Codes that mandate accessibility for the disabled will require 40” between counters for kitchens that are completely new. (If you are replacing an existing kitchen within already established partitions, this rule may not apply.) Check your building code for other requirements.]

If the parallel kitchen is to be very long, make sure that the major appliances are not spaced too far apart. The periphery of the kitchen can be used for the broom closet, the double ovens, paper-goods storage, or the cabinet containing the “good” set of dishes and crystal.

To give this large contemporary kitchen a more intimate character, a brick wall with an arch was designed for the range top. It is lit by a decorative soffit that doubles as a display area for crafts.

The L layout is often used in a large square space that is to serve as an eat-in kitchen. This layout becomes inefficient if the legs of the L are too long. In this arrangement, as in the one above, keep the major appliances (sink, refrigerator, and range) close to one another.

The U-shaped kitchen is useful if the space is rectangular and between 9’ and 11’ in width. One end of the space can be utilized for the cooking and the other half for dining.

A rectangular space at least 12’ wide suggests an island U arrangement. The three major appliances can be located on each of the sides of the U ( Ill. 4). In this layout the island is used primarily for “dry” functions (that is, activities that do not require immediate access to running water) such as slicing, food processing, or kneading dough. When adopting this layout the designer must be careful that the island does not act as a barrier between major appliances. In a modification to this scheme, the sink or the range can be located on the island and the remaining appliances on adjacent legs. The unused leg of the U can be used as a baking center or for the under-counter washer-dryer.

The ground floor of a brownstone has been made info a large informal kitchen and dining space.

By all means avoid a kitchen layout that has an appliance on each of four walls of the kitchen and a farm-style table in the middle of the space. In this layout the cook is forced to constantly detour around the table when moving from sink to range to refrigerator. This kitchen would work if you had a carousel instead of a table and you were reaching for brass rings instead of onions.

When you are designing a new kitchen in the space of the old one, you may not have very much choice in the layout. If the old space is long and narrow and you do not wish to (1) widen it by pushing out a wall or (2) relocate it by constructing an addition or (3) enlarge it by incorporating a number of spaces into one room, then your new kitchen will be long and narrow too. But even if the space is to have the same proportions as the old one, you need not feel compelled to keep the fixtures in the same locations. The refrigerator can easily be moved to any location in the room and so can the electric cooktop and ovens. In the case of the latter, be sure to design a route for the ventilation ducts if they are required. Even a gas appliance can be moved since the pipe feeding the oven or cooktop can be concealed in the partition, floor, or ceiling.

Plumbing fixtures are not as flexible. A simple sink requires both hot- and cold-water lines, a drain line to remove the waste, and a ventilation pipe to remove odors (see Section 18). The water lines are easy to route through walls, floors, and ceilings since the push is non-gravitational and the water flows laterally as well as up and down. Drainage systems, on the other hand, are purely gravitational, meaning that the pipe must always pitch downward from the source (that is, the sink). The vent line cannot be (by law) too far from the plumbing fixture. Some apartment dwellers may not be able to position the plumbing fixtures on free-standing islands if they are unable to penetrate the floor systems for the drainage pipes.


Here is an abbreviated list of the sizes of the major items included in the kitchen. A more thorough study may be found in Section 11. The information below applies to American-made products, which still dominate the appliance market. Many stylish European products are now available. If you intend to incorporate a European product into your scheme, be sure to check its exact size in inches since European manufacturers do not necessarily adhere to our standard modules. (In addition, check the plumbing and electrical specifications of all imported products to make sure they can be hooked up to your electrical and plumbing systems.)

Kitchen counters are always 24” or 25” deep. Most appliances are designed to fit into or adjacent to this 2’ counter depth, Refrigerators are the exception to the above rule. Most are deeper than 2’. Many are as deep as 2’-6”. There are a number of companies that make 2’-deep refrigerator-freezers but they tend to be more expensive. Refrigerators come in a variety of widths and heights as well. Be sure to select the refrigerator before firming up the kitchen design. We generally reserve 32” or 36” for the width of the refrigerator when laying out the schematics.

Most ranges (stove top above, oven below) are 25” deep, but some have handles that protrude an inch or more. Ranges are either 24”, 30”, 36”, or 42” wide, with 30” being the most commonly found width. Stove tops are designed to fit into 2’-deep counters and are available in the same widths as ranges.

Double wall ovens are also 2’ deep. They come either 24” or 27” wide. Some of the newer imports do not stick to the rules, so research the dimensions carefully.

Sinks are designed to fit into a 2’-deep Counter. A good size for a single sink is 25” wide, but sinks can be purchased in a wide variety of sizes ranging from 18” to 30”. Double sinks take up more room. Allow at least 30” or as much as 43” (for a triple sink) for the sinks. The most commonly used dimension for a double basin is 33”.

Dishwashers fit most neatly into the module. Almost every familiar brand is 24” deep and 24” wide.

Other under-counter appliances, such as garbage compactors, freezers, and wine cellars, come in a variety of widths but generally conform to the 2’-deep module.

There are a few manufacturers that make under-counter washers and dryers. These products may require a 26”-deep counter above them. If you are integrating these units into your kitchen design, make sure that leg of the counter is 26”.


Natural Light and Ventilation

It is nice to have a window in the kitchen. It allows for natural light and ventilation. In some municipalities you are required to provide a window in the kitchen if the kitchen is enclosed. In New York City, for example, a “kitchen” is a separate room with a window and may be any size. [Check your code carefully for rulings that dictate allowable sizes and clearances for new and renovated kitchens.] An enclosed, windowless room used for cooking is called a “kitchenette.” The code limits its size to 59 square feet and insists that it be mechanically ventilated ( Ill. 5). A windowed, eat- in/live-in kitchen (combining an open kitchen with dining and lounging functions) is usually permitted. Be sure to check your local building code if you are contemplating an interior kitchen.

Another legal consideration is accessibility to the disabled. Many municipalities have adopted rulings specifying minimum widths between counters and other dimensional requirements to allow accessibility to people in wheelchairs. Check with the building department to determine if your renovation is affected.

Counter Space

If there is any maxim in kitchen design, it is that you can never have enough counter space. Generous counter space allows you to spread out when working and provides enough work space for several cooks. The only drawback to a lot of counter area is that the cook has a tendency to spread out into new territory rather than clean up after each task. Kitchen counters are typically 24” (or 25”) deep. They may be of any length. When planning a new kitchen, make sure you leave enough room in between the major fixtures (sink, cooktop, and refrigerator). A minimum of about 2’ of counter on either side of the sink and the stove is ideal. If you can’t manage to allocate this much free counter area adjacent to the major fixtures, you will have to compromise. In any case, make sure you leave at least 2’ between stove and sink.

The “Look” of the Kitchen

The kitchen is likely to be one of the most expensive rooms in the house and the one that receives the most attention. Most people have some notion of what the kitchen should look like as well as how it should function. These notions range from the open, old-fashioned, “cluttered” country-kitchen look to the sleek, nothing-on- the-counters, shiny-white, modern look. The materials selected for the finishes of the kitchen will determine how the kitchen will ultimately look and feel. It really doesn’t matter how the kitchen is configured. A Hollywood kitchen can be made to look warm and cozy or sleek and sophisticated.

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Saturday, 2009-04-11 14:49